Live longer and happier

The most effective thing you can do to live longer, happier, and healthier is to meditate regularly. Not only has meditation been proven to reduce stress, which is one of the biggest causes of disease, but it also promotes telomerase activity, which increases longevity by delaying the unraveling of your DNA.

As well as the physical benefits of meditation, there are psychological benefits: spending time developing focus and awareness leads to greater clarity and perspective about your life. This results in choices that are more in alignment with your higher self, that meet your needs more effectively, and that enable you to live a more fulfilled life. My meditation has saved enormous amounts of time by making me more focused and clear when I am not meditating. In meditation I have discovered solutions to difficult problems, and simplifications that have saved a lot of time and effort.

You don’t need to meditate that much. Just get started and meditate a bit every day. When I first started meditating, I did twenty to thirty minutes per day: ten to fifteen minutes in the morning and ten to fifteen minutes in the evening. After only four months, my focus and awareness had increased to the point where I experienced the underlying nature of reality, known as the Tao. That’s how powerful and effective meditation is. However, the goal of meditation can never be to achieve anything, even to know God, or non-duality. For meditation to be effective, the objective of meditation must be only to practice. Practice is leaning into clear, focused awareness. Practice has inherent meaning and satisfaction, which you will discover from experience. In time, all of life becomes practice.

To start meditating, you need to be able to sit upright and still, with a straight spine, for a reasonable amount of time. You might want to sit on a chair with your back away from the back of the chair. Another option is to sit cross-legged on relatively thick cushion that raises your hips above your knees. I sit like this, with my legs in a tailor pose, one closer to my body than the other.

Tailor sitting pose

How I sit to meditate

Meditation cushion

Meditation cushion

There are many different kinds of meditation. One of the most basic, and most powerful, is to pay attention to your breath. This is the technique that led to my experience of the fundamental nature of reality. To do this, you just close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations created by breathing.

You need to to allow your mind to watch the sensations, in the body, that the breathing creates. Notice if you find yourself wanting to control the breath and notice if you are controlling the breath. The process is to relax your mind and allow it to simply watch. Any time you notice that your mind has wandered to some thought about the past or the future, or even a thought about the present, then gently bring it back to the experience of the breath. You may catch yourself paying attention to a present-moment sensation or experience that is not related to your breath. As with thinking, bring your attention gently back to the experience of your breath.

The process is all about watching and witnessing without judgement. If you find yourself judging, then witness that without judging. Sometimes people will say, “I can’t meditate because my mind keeps wandering.” This is a sign that they are meditating. Don’t give up meditating because when you try to meditate your mind wanders. Your mind wanders because you are meditating. The fact that you notice your mind wandering tells you that you are in fact meditating.

In this video, I guide you in watching the breath:

If you want to learn to meditate really intensely and deeply, I recommend learning vipassana, which Buddha discovered and used to free himself from suffering. The best way to do this is at a free 10-day vipassana retreat.

I don’t understand what’s happening

I met a friend last night for dinner. On the way to dinner she said, “There’s something wrong. You’re not as happy as usual.” I asked when she first noticed that I was behaving differently and she told me that it was just since I collected her.

In the past I might have directed my irritation or unhappiness at her, feeling criticized, but instead I have learned to assume that people have good intentions, which is usually the case. So I considered what might be wrong, and, not knowing, I said, “I don’t understand what’s happening.” I then pondered what might be the problem and I remembered that I had been thinking about a couple of issues in my life just before I collected her.

I said, “I think it might be something to do with” these issues, and explained the situation and what I was worried about. By the time we got to the restaurant, I had expressed to her how I felt about these things, and she had validated my feelings and given me support and encouragement.

We went into the restaurant and had a great time. When we were returning home, she said, “I just realized that you returned to your normal happy, content self.” I asked her when that happened. She said that it was when we entered the restaurant, after I had shared about the thing that was bothering me. We then talked about how my conversation with her was the basis of simple Rogerian psychotherapy, and both marveled at how powerful it is for improving mood.

Even as she was playing the role of an effective therapist, in reality a good friend, I was playing the role of an effective client, in reality a friend who is willing to be vulnerable, to accept feedback, to accept help, and to risk rejection, all in the name of not perpetuating my own suffering or replicating it in other people.

As I write this, I am reminded of an similar episode a few weeks ago when she arrived complaining about perceived unfair treatment at work, something that didn’t usually bother her. After I listened to her and acknowledged and validated her feelings, she then realized that what she was really upset about was something much more personal and painful. She cried about that, something she rarely does, and then her mood lifted and she was her usual happy, playful self.

What are you really angry about?

I was cross-country skiing yesterday when a family came close to me, a mother, father, and two small kids. I heard the woman saying to the man that she was having trouble with the snow-shoes, finding it hard to walk down a slope. The man berated her for not doing it right, speaking to her very harshly.

A short while later, a woman arrived with two huskies. One of the dogs ran up and licked the snot from my nose as I tightened one of my boots. While I was doing that, the man arrived on the trail behind me while his wife and children came around a corner on an adjacent trail. One of the husky dogs ran up to one of the children and the man yelled at its owner, “Will you take control of your dogs!” The dog owner responded, “They’re gentle.” He said, “I don’t care! You people always say that! You should get your dog under control!” He kept speaking very aggressively to the dog owner, who was apologizing. Then he walked up the hill complaining to one of the kids about dog owners while his wife and the other kid trailed along behind.

I felt really sorry for him because I used to do that kind of thing a lot, and I still do sometimes. He had spoiled his day with his suffering and he had caused suffering to other people. I’m pretty sure that he was not really upset about his wife’s snow-shoeing ability, or about dogs being enthusiastic about kids. There was something else that as bothering him; he was upset about something that he was probably not admitting to himself, let alone his wife. I thought about saying to him, “This isn’t really about the dogs, is it?” But I know from experience that he would have just attacked me. Then, when we later crossed their path, I considered telling him that sometimes things like that upset me too and that I found it’s usually about somethings else, something more important to me.

A bigger shame is that until he acknowledges the deeper truth it will persist, and whatever the material circumstance is in his life that it is connected to will also be more likely to persist; he will not have the emotional resources and clarity to cause things to change to be more in alignment with his wishes.